Tony Stewart had yet to officially leave Joe Gibbs Racing, accept a 50 percent ownership stake in Haas CNC Racing or take a shower after qualifying when he sat to speak with the Times in his motorcoach July 4 at Daytona International Speedway. He apologized for the shower part, but his insights on career, life and the future filled in many blanks about why the two-time Sprint Cup champion made the boldest move of his career on Thursday.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said last year, paraphrasing, that he never realized his power until he offered his services on the open market. Did you have the epiphany?
It's very flattering. As your popularity grows, I don't think we as drivers realize it. I think it's easier to see from the outside in than the inside out.
At 37 you're certainly no old man, but do you sense you're entering a new phase?
I think as you get older you start realizing you have to be smart enough to plan down the road and you assess where you're at and where you want to be 10, 15, 25 years down the road. You see it so much with other athletes in other sports. They have a great professional career and two or three years after they're done they're broke and have nothing.
Is there a Tony Stewart "bucket list"?
I'd say there's more things starting to enter the list. I'd say I've been so consumed with racing. This is 28 years I've been driving race cars, including the go-carts, so for the last 27 years of a 37-year life, it's like tunnel vision of just racing, and as you get older you realize there's other stuff outside of racing you want to do and places you want to go see.
That had to have figured into considering the offers that eventually led you to Haas CNC, right?
Sure. It has to. You look at my Cup career and how many guys in the series at some point or the other switched teams or had switches in the organization, whether it's been crew chiefs or whatever. … Even when you're on top of your game, you have to know what's available to you, what your options are.
But you weren't soliciting these offers?
We had people coming to us. How it started, it's because Gibbs has said they're going to renegotiate my contract a year early. Well, as soon as they do that, then all of the car owners that are interested start calling. I guess to a certain degree Gibbs brought it on themselves a little bit. I think they were trying to do it for the right reasons, obviously, but at the same time that's what somewhat creates the feeding frenzy.
Do you plant stuff in the media — like the Hendrick Motorsports rumor — just to see what happens?
I've said things to the media that is 180 degrees opposite of the truth just to see how smart some of them are and how much some of them actually pay attention and if they pay attention to the bigger picture.
It's fun sometimes to see who really is actually talented and who are still trying to make a name for themselves just like race car drivers.
We'll have to read your story to see where you fit in this. You're still Chase-eligible. You haven't been locked out, by any means, yet.
Thank goodness. I'd hate to just be riding around the rest of the season with nothing to gain.
You and me both.